The Hebrew word often translated as “rebellious” in the Old Testament seems to have at its root the sense of bitterness. This makes sense. Those who rebel against something, such as authority, are not happy with the way things are. They want change. The difference between a complainer and a rebel is that the latter chooses to take action.
Various passages in the Bible speak of Satan as being rebellious against God. It seems clear that he would love nothing more than to be worshiped, even as God is worshiped. For example, when tempting Jesus directly as recorded in Luke 4:5-7 (ESV), the following took place:
And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”
These few words offer a glimpse into the heart of Satan. He’s bitter that God Almighty is worshiped, and thus Satan has become the ultimate rebel. It’s little wonder, then, that when God created paradise and placed mankind within it, Satan tempted them to rebel against God. Adam and Eve fell into this trap, and we have been paying the price ever since. The truth is, everyone who’s ever been born has a rebellious heart. In Romans 3 Paul quotes the Psalms as he says that, “There is no one righteous, not even one… All have turned away… Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
Note the mention of bitterness. In our natural state, we are bitter, dissatisfied, and live in rebellion against God. Certainly rebellion takes various forms, and some are more obvious than others, yet without Christ all humans are rebellious at heart, and we struggle against God in many ways.
When we choose to trust in Jesus for salvation, and are thus reconciled to God, we change in many ways. 2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV) notes that, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
Once this supernatural transformation process begins, many things change in our lives. One thing, however, remains. As long as we remain in the world and until we are in God’s presence in heaven, we will struggle with our sinful nature. As we do so, we once again experience a degree of bitterness. There’s a tremendous difference, however. We remain rebellious at heart, but as our hearts are transformed, that rebellion now takes the form of a struggle, or war, against sin. This is clearly described in Ephesians 6:10-12 (NIV):
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Note well that our struggle is not against other people. This is a spiritual struggle, this is spiritual warfare. Don’t look to other people to meet your needs, and thus be bitter against them when they do not. Instead, draw near to God, trust him, depend on him, and he will provide a way. As Proverbs 3:5-6 says:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
God’s straight paths generally includes a great deal of hard work, perseverance, and many ups and downs. In fact, I suspect these are intended to periodically teach us to trust in him once again.
As noted above, as long as we’re here on earth we will struggle. Make sure, however, that any bitterness you experience is directed toward sin, and not toward God or others. As you think about this, take time to reflect on Romans 12:9-21. Here’s the ESV version:
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Jesus is the ultimate warrior. When faced directly with temptation from Satan, the prince of this world, Jesus stood strong and rebelled against the sin that was offered to him. Let’s learn from Jesus, and allow any rebellion that remains within us to be directed toward the sin that would overtake us if given the chance.